National CAPACD Lovingly Remembers the Life and Legacy of Esther Wong

National CAPACD is deeply saddened by the loss of Esther Wong, who passed away last month on October 9th in the presence of her loving family. Esther was a former National CAPACD board member and the co-founder and former Executive Director of Chinese American Service League (CASL). She was a lifelong leader and advocate for Asian Americans and immigrant communities in Chicago and across the country. Perhaps most importantly, she was a deeply respected mentor and beloved friend to colleagues, clients, and co-conspirators alike.  

Esther dedicated her life to the preservation and growth of Chicago’s Chinatown, and to the expansion of services and resources for multigenerational immigrant communities across the country. Those who had the honor of touring Chicago’s Chinatown with her could feel her love, care, and dedication for the community. Her legacy lives on in the affordable housing developments, youth afterschool programs, senior services, and small businesses that make up the neighborhood. 

Esther’s leadership was special – she nurtured her relationships and deeply invested in the leadership of others with kindness and patience. Her generous spirit and dedication was reflected in the support that CASL provided, as a seasoned organization in National CAPACD’s membership, to other members with limited experience and resources. We would like to share some reflections from National CAPACD staff and board about the deep impact that Esther had during her tenure as a board member:

National CAPACD Executive Director Seema Agnani shared, “Esther was a dearly loved and deeply respected leader in our community. She was a teacher and dear friend who I learned so much from over the years. She was simultaneously always kind and attentive to all those around her while always remaining a powerful advocate rooted in her deep commitment to social justice. She truly stood in her power and understood her purpose within the broader movement – supporting so many leaders as well as building and strengthening numerous vital organizations in the Chicago area and across the country.  We are deeply saddened by the loss of Esther but celebrate her legacy that lives on throughout our communities, always.”

National CAPACD Board Member Maiko Winkler-Chin shared, “I believe Esther and I started on the National CAPACD board at the same time as I don’t remember a time without her. She’s the board member and human I want to be – thoughtful, dedicated, kind, and caring. I remember walking through Chicago’s Chinatown and CASL’s offices with Esther, seeing the love she had for her community. She was inspiring, and I feel fortunate to have met her.”

National CAPACD Board Member and HANA Center Executive Director Inhe Choi shared, “Esther was a powerful role model for me and so many others around her, especially Asian American women. She was kind, thoughtful, and effective. Esther’s dedication and strategic leadership led to Chicago’s Chinatown being recognized as the “Best Chinatown” in the country! She exemplified the critical role and power of working behind the scenes to uplift community members and develop leaders. She was filled with joy and love for her family. We will all miss her. But we are all so lucky to have known her and experienced her wisdom and care to help us to be better community workers. Thank you Esther!

Our condolences and sympathies go out to Esther’s family and the Chicago community. Her legacy will continue to inspire us and our vision for our communities – her dedication to justice expressed through her lifelong service and love for her communities set an example we must all work toward.

Please read CASL CEO Paul Luu’s statement and check back here to learn about ways you can honor Esther’s legacy.